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# Numerical simulation of Thermoelectric System

## ELENA-OTILIA VIRJOGHE*, DIANA ENESCU**, MARCEL IONEL**,

MIHAIL-FLORIN STAN*
*Automatics, Informatics and Electrical Engineering Department
**Electronic, Telecommunications and Energetically Engineering Department
Valahia University Targoviste, Electrical Engineering Faculty
18-24 Unirii Blvd., 130082 Targoviste
ROMANIA
otiliavirjoghe@yahoo.com, enescudiana@yahoo.com, ionel.marcell@yahoo.com ,
flo.stan@gmail.com, www.valahia.ro

Abstract: - The thermoelectric systems have attracted renewed interest as concerns with the efficient use of
energy resources, and the minimization of environmental damage, have become important current issues. There
has been he recognition that thermoelectric devices could play a role in generating electricity from waste heat,
enabling cooling via refrigerators with no moving parts, and many other more specialized applications. This
paper presents of numerical simulation for several the thermoelectric materials. Numerical simulation is carried
out by using a finite element package ANSYS.

Key-Words: - numerical simulation, Peltier cooling, materials properties, temperature, voltage, figure of merit.

1 Introduction
The thermoelectric systems have been the subject of
major advances in recent years, due to the
development of semiconductors and the
incorporation of the thermoelectric devices into
domestic appliances. Generally, if a thermal gradient
is applied to a solid, it will always be accompanied
by an electric field in the opposite direction. This
process is called as the thermoelectric effect.
Thermoelectric material applications include
refrigeration or electric power generation. The
efficiency of a thermoelectric material is given by
the figure of merit, Z, which is defined as :

(

=
K
,
k
Z
1
2

(1)

where:
- material's Seebeck coefficient, V/K,
- electrical conductivity of material, S/m,
k thermal conductivity of material, W/(m
.
K).
The numerator in equation (1) is called the power
factor. Therefore, the most useful method in order to
describe and compare the quality and thermoelectric
efficiency of different material systems is the
dimensionless figure of merit (ZT), where T is the
temperature of interest. Therefore, equation (1) can
be rewritten as:

k
T
ZT

=

2
(2)

An important point it is represented by achieving a
high value of ZT, this being carried out by increasing
the power factor (
2
) and decreasing the thermal
conductivity (k).
One of the main applications of thermoelectric is for
refrigeration purposes. An electrical current applied
across a material will cause a temperature
differential which can be used for cooling .

2 Problem's definition
Consider the one dimensional |

\
|
=
dx
d
steady-state,
thermoelectric power generation problem, where only
a single (n-or p-type) leg is considered. The
thermoelectric material properties all vary with
absolute temperature T. Positive electric current
density and heat flux flows from T
h
to T
c
. Positive
electric field E and temperature gradient are in the
opposite direction of J and Q (Fig.1). The electric
current density is for a simple generator, given by :

A
I
J =
(3)

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ISSN: 1792-4235 630 ISBN: 978-960-474-214-1
where I is the electric current and A is the cross-
sectional area of the thermoelectric element.

Fig.1 Diagram of a single-element thermoelectric
generator (Source:)

The direction of positive variables is shown relative
to the hot-and cold side. For positive Seebeck
coefficient (>0), all of the variables are positive for
a generator operating efficiently. For negative
Seebeck coefficient (<0), the electric current, field
and potential (J, E, V) will be negative or opposite to
the direction shown .
The electric field is given by a combination of the
reversible Seebeck effect and the irreversible effect of
Ohms law. Using the sign convention described
above, the electric field from a purely resistive
element using Ohms law is J E = . The electric
field produced by the Seebeck effect is T E = .
Combining the Seebeck and Ohm effects, gives the
electric field at any position:

J T E = (4)

Similary, heat is transported reversibly by the
Peltier effect, TJ Q = , where T is the Peltier
coefficient and irreversibly by Fourier's law T k Q = ,
using sign convention of Fig.1:

T k TJ Q + = (5)

The Peltier effect is often considered a surface
effect between two materials but the heat transported
is a property of a single material . In both cases
(equation 4 and equation 5), the irreversible and
reversible effects are treated independently, and can
simply be summed. This treatment is related to
Kelvins assumption. The irreversible heat flow is
further constrained by the steady-state heat equation:
( )
2
J T J
dT
d
T T k

= (6)

where
dT
d
T

is the Thomson coefficient.
The electric power density P (power produced per
volume) is the product of the electric field E and
current density J:

EJ P = (7)

Using sign convention in Fig. 1, a purely resistive
element (=0) would require a negative electric field
J E = to make a positive current (+J) so that the
power density
2
J P = is negative (electric energy
consumed).

3 Design optimization
The performance of a thermoelectric generator is
dependent on many variables that could be optimized
globally to find the optimum design. However, by
using a reduced variable approach to the design
problem, many interdependencies of the design
variables are eliminated, which allows a better
understanding of the effect of each variable .
The first goal of the design process is to evaluate
the highest possible thermoelectric efficiency for all
hot-and cold-side temperatures (of the thermoelectric
generator, not the heat sinks), which may be viable.
This will produce an optimized efficiency that is only
a function of the thermoelectric hot- and cold-side
temperatures:

( )
c h
T T ,
max
= (8)

The presumption is that any other variables (such as
materials chosen, interface temperatures, geometry,
current, etc.) that may be required for the calculation
of efficiency can be optimized given a T
h
and T
c
. This
is true for the thermoelectric material interface
temperatures, but less true for size of metal
interconnect and contact resistance .

3.1 Thermoelectric Element Length
Once the optimized efficiency (equation 8) is found
given a T
h
and T
c
, the values of u(T) and (T) for both
the n- and p-element are defined. Most of the
remaining performance parameters also require the
thermoelectric element length. This is usually
determined by the desired total heat flux U
total,h
/A
total
(or power/area W/A
total)
. In order to calculate l and
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ISSN: 1792-4235 631 ISBN: 978-960-474-214-1
further operating conditions, the total heat flux
U
total,h
/A
total
or power/area desired W/A
total
must be
given. Thus, l is a function only of T
h
, T
c
, and
U
total,h
/A
total
:

( )
total total c h
A U T T l l / , , = . (9)

Once functions equation 8 and equation 9 are
evaluated for a variety of T
h
, T
c
, and U
total,h
/A
total
, they
can be incorporated into the system model to find the
optimal system operation condition .
The system power and voltage are directly
proportional to the size of the generator (through A
total
)
and number of couples. Once the system trades are
complete, the final configuration of the thermoelectric
generator can be established.

3.2 Voltage
The voltage produced V
system
is the number of couples
connected in series N
series
times the couple voltage
V
couple
:

series couple system
N V V = . (10)

Thus, the number of couples in series is determined by
the voltage requirement. Often redundancy is desired
by including additional parallel circuits N
parallel
:

parallel series system
N N N = . (11)

Once the thermoelectric length is fixed, the total
power desired W will define the total cross-sectional
area A
total
. The relationship between the area of a
couple and the number of couples N
system
, is given by:

system
total
total
couple
N
A
U
W
A

= . (12)

3.2 Temperature
Materials and device characterization play a key role
in thermoelectric research. Materials composition and
parameters affect the achieved thermoelectric (TE)
performance (for example, functional properties and
figure-of-merit of materials, efficiency, coefficient of
performance, or sensitivity of devices).
As it is known, metals are poor thermoelectric
materials because they have a low Seebeck coefficient
and large electron contribution to thermal conductivity
k, so electrical conductivity and thermal
conductivity k will cancel each other out. A low
thermoelectric effect is carried out by insulators which
have a high Seebeck coefficient and small electron
contribution to thermal conductivity, so their charge
density and electrical conductivity are low. The best
thermoelectric materials are between metals and
insulators (i.e., semiconductors) , .
The thermoelectric materials of choice for the steady-
state simulations illustrated in this paper on a
thermoelectric element Peltier cooler are Bismuth-
Tellurium (Bi-Te) and Lead-Tellurium (Pb-Te). They
have a high Seebeck coefficient , a good electric
conductivity , and a poor thermal conductivity k.
Usually, those material properties depend on the
temperature and may be anisotropic. Here only
isotropic material properties are used at constant
material parameters. Thermoelectric (TE) materials
based on (Bi,Sb)
2
(Te,Se)
3
are the best and, in fact, the
only materials used for cooling. These include
bismuth-tellurium (Bi-Te) and antimony-tellurium
(Sb-Te) compounds. More recently, nanostructured
materials have been investigated as candidates to
increase the performance of thermoelectric devices.
PbTe nanocomposites have been prepared from PbTe
nanocrystals, synthesized via chemical route, by
compaction under high pressure and temperature. The
thermoelectric (TE) properties are found to vary with
the shape and size of the composites nanostructures.
Transport properties of PbTe nanocomposites have
been evaluated through temperature-dependent
electrical conductivity, Seebeck coefficient, room
temperature, and thermal conductivity measurements
, .

4 Numerical simulation
Numerical simulation is carried out by using a finite
element package ANSYS. This package operates with
three stages: preprocessor, solver and postprocessor.
The procedure for doing a static thermoelectricity
analysis consists of following main steps: create the
physics environment, build and mesh the model and
assign physics attributes to each region within the
model, apply boundary conditions and loads
(excitation), obtain the solution, review the results.
In order to define the physics environment for an
analysis, it is necessary to use the ANSYS
preprocessor (PREP7) and to establish a mathematical
simulation model of the physical problem .
In order to do this, the following steps are presented
below: set GUI Preferences, define the analysis title,
define element types and options, define element
coordinate systems, set real constants and define a
system of units, define material properties. ANSYS
includes three elements which can be used in
modeling the thermoelectricity phenomenon .
Element types establish the physics of the problem
domain. Depending on the nature of the problem, it is
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necessary to define several element types to model the
different physics regions in the model.
A simple cooler geometry consists of one p-type
semiconductor element 1x1x5.8mm in size . It is
contacted by two copper electrodes 0.1 mm in
thickness (Fig.2).

Fig.2 The model geometry for p-type thermoelectric leg

In the present application, for modeling the electric
and thermal fields the SOLID227 element was chosen.
SOLID227 has the following capabilities: structural-
thermal, piezoresistive, electroelastic, piezoelectric,
thermal-electric, structural-thermoelectric, thermal-
piezoelectric , .

1
X
Y
Z
Thermoelectric system
JUN 23 2010
00:24:31
ELEMENTS

Fig.3 The mesh model with triangular elements

The element has ten nodes with up to five degrees of
freedom per node. Thermoelectric capabilities include
Seebeck, Peltier, and Thomson effects, as well as
Joule heating.
Next step in the preprocessor phase is mesh
generation and load application on the elements. It
was used a mesh with 13711 nodes and 8586
triangular elements. The finite element mesh of the
thermoelectric element is shown in Fig.3.
Table 1. Numerical material properties from , 

Material
properties
from
Units
measure
Bismuth-
Tellurium
(Bi-Te)
Lead-
Tellurium
(Pb-Te)
Cooper
Seebeck
Coefficient

[V/K ]
p:200e
-6

n:-200e
-6

p:175e
-6

n:-175e
-6

6.5e
-6

Electric
resistivity

[S/m ]
0.9 e
-5
0.8 e
-5
0.169 e
-8

Thermal
conductivity

[W/(mK)]
1.6 1.548 350
Density
[kg/m
3
]
7740 8160 8920
Heat
capacity
C
[J/(kgK)]
154.4 156 385

The following examples show results of calculations
for typical thermoelectric applications. The material
properties for the calculations with temperature-
independent values are shown in Table 1. Here typical
values for Bismuth-Telluride, Lead-Telluride and
copper were taken from .

1
MN
MX
X
Y
Z
Thermoelectric system
273.15
280.587
288.025
295.463
302.9
310.338
317.775
325.213
332.65
341.15
JUN 22 2010
23:54:16
NODAL SOLUTION
STEP=1
SUB =1
TIME=1
TEMP (AVG)
RSYS=0
SMN =273.15
SMX =341.15

Fig.4 Distribution of temperature for Bi
2
Te
3
material

A calculation model that simulates the thermal and
electric performance of whole cooling based on
thermoelectric technology has been implemented.

1
MN
MX
X
Y
Z
Thermoelectric system
0
.005141
.010281
.015422
.020563
.025703
.030844
.035984
.041125
.047
JUN 22 2010
23:55:04
NODAL SOLUTION
STEP=1
SUB =1
TIME=1
VOLT (AVG)
RSYS=0
SMX =.047

Fig.5 Distribution of voltage for Bi
2
Te
3
material
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The model inputs are: semiconductor materials and
geometry, Peltier pellet components type, electrical
voltage supplied to the Peltier pellet components and
the hot and cold side temperatures.
The distribution of temperature for Bi
2
Te
3
material is
shown in Fig.4 and the distribution of voltage for
Bi
2
Te
3
material is shown in Fig.5.
When an electric current is running from the cold end
to the hot end, the Joule heating is generated
uniformly inside the element. The dissipated heat
must reach both ends equally by conduction.
The cooler with Bi
2
Te
3
material is designed to
maintain the cold junction at a temperature
T
c
=273.15K and to dissipate heat from the hot
junction T
h
=341.15K.
Adiabatic boundary conditions were taken on all other
surfaces. At the top of the upper electrode a current of
0.535A was applied.

1
MN
MX X
Y
Z
Thermoelectric system
.338E-11
1.953
3.906
5.859
7.813
9.766
11.719
13.672
15.625
17.857
JUN 22 2010
23:55:44
NODAL SOLUTION
STEP=1
SUB =1
TIME=1
TGSUM (AVG)
RSYS=0
SMN =.338E-11
SMX =17.857

Fig.6 Distribution of thermal gradient for Bi
2
Te
3

material

When a current passes through a material submitted to
gradient of temperature, then the material exchanges
heat with the outside medium.

1
MN
MX
X
Y
Z
Thermoelectric system
.123E-08
3.407
6.814
10.221
13.628
17.035
20.442
23.849
27.256
31.149
JUN 22 2010
23:56:23
NODAL SOLUTION
STEP=1
SUB =1
TIME=1
TFSUM (AVG)
RSYS=0
SMN =.123E-08
SMX =31.149

Fig.7 Distribution of thermal flux for Bi
2
Te
3
material
Conversely, a current is produced when a heat flux
passes through a material submitted to a temperature
gradient.
In the case of cooling, the load is replaced by a dc-
current source, which cases the charge carries to move
from the cold zone to the hot zone. This implies a
thermal flux opposite to the normal heat conduction.
After the simulation, the model-returned outputs are:
temperatures, heat flows, thermal gradient, thermal
flux, and voltage distribution. The distribution of
thermal gradient for Bi
2
Te
3
material is shown in Fig.6
and the distribution of thermal flux for Bi
2
Te
3
material
is shown in Fig.7.
The distribution of temperature for PbTe material is
shown in Fig.8. The distribution of voltage for PbTe
material is shown in Fig.9.

1
MN
MX
X
Y
Z
Thermoelectric system
273.15
280.041
286.931
293.822
300.713
307.603
314.494
321.384
328.275
336.15
JUN 23 2010
00:18:53
NODAL SOLUTION
STEP=1
SUB =1
TIME=1
TEMP (AVG)
RSYS=0
SMN =273.15
SMX =336.15

Fig.8 Distribution of temperature for PbTe material

1
MN
MX
X
Y
Z
Thermoelectric system
0
.004725
.00945
.014175
.0189
.023625
.02835
.033075
.0378
.0432
JUN 23 2010
00:19:30
NODAL SOLUTION
STEP=1
SUB =1
TIME=1
VOLT (AVG)
RSYS=0
SMX =.0432

Fig.9 Distribution of voltage for PbTe material

The temperature dependence of Seebeck coefficient,
electrical conductivity and power factor of the PbTe
material lie within the temperature range 400600 K.
Thermal conductivity reduction has played a central
role in improving the thermoelectric figure-of merit,
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ZT, of materials that already have a good power
factor.
1
MN
MX X
Y
Z
Thermoelectric system
.338E-11
1.976
3.952
5.929
7.905
9.881
11.857
13.834
15.81
18.068
JUN 23 2010
00:20:45
NODAL SOLUTION
STEP=1
SUB =1
TIME=1
TGSUM (AVG)
RSYS=0
SMN =.338E-11
SMX =18.068

Fig.10 Distribution of thermal gradient for PbTe
material

The distribution of the thermal gradient for PbTe
material is shown in Fig.10 and the distribution of
thermal flux for Bi-Te material is shown in Fig.11.

1
MN
MX
X
Y
Z
Thermoelectric system
.126E-08
3.843
7.686
11.529
15.371
19.214
23.057
26.9
30.743
35.135
JUN 23 2010
00:21:14
NODAL SOLUTION
STEP=1
SUB =1
TIME=1
TFSUM (AVG)
RSYS=0
SMN =.126E-08
SMX =35.135

Fig.11 Distribution of thermal flux for PbTe material

When lead telluride PbTe is compared with bismuth
telluride Bi
2
Te
3
, a temperature difference of nearly 63
K for cooler with PbTe and temperature difference of
nearly 68 K for cooler with Bi2Te3 is noted. The
voltage at the upper electrode is 47 mV for cooler
with Bi
2
Te
3
and 43.2 mV for cooler with PbTe. This
means that, although the value of the figure of merit
of PbTe is lower than for Bi
2
Te
3
, the latter material is
used.

5 Conclusions
To calculate the exact performance of a thermoelectric
devices analytically, it is simplest to use a reduced
variables approach that will separate the intensive
properties and variables (such as temperature gradient,
Seebeck coefficient, current density, heat flux density)
from the extensive ones (e.g., voltage, temperature
difference, power output, area, length, resistance, load
resistance). This approach allows a definition of a
local, intensive efficiency in addition to the traditional
system efficiency as well as the derivation of the
compatibility factor.
Applications of the two materials Bi
2
Te
3
and PbTe
demonstrate the Peltier effect for thermoelectric
cooling. It can be seen that a smaller thermal
conductivity will decrease the heat transfer between
the two ends, a smaller electrical resistivity will
reduce the Joule heating, and a larger Seebeck or
Peltier coefficient will enhance the heat removal. For
most metals, the thermal conductivity is too high and
the Seebeck coefficient is too small for refrigeration
applications.
In fact, lead telluride-based materials have been used
for a range of purposes in the hot-junction temperature
range 600 to 900 K . Conversely, PbTe has been
considered more as a material for thermoelectric
generation at moderately high temperatures rather
than for refrigeration at room temperature and below
. PbTe thermoelectric generators have been widely
used by the US army, in space crafts to provide
onboard power, and in pacemaker batteries. The
application shown in this paper can be useful to
represent the characteristics of the Peltier cooling
through numerical models.

References:
Kimmel, J. Thermoelectric Materials, Physics
152, Special Topics Paper, March 2, 1999
D.M. Rowe, Ph.D., D.Sc., Thermoelectric
Handbook Macro to Nano, 2006 by Taylor & Francis
Group, LLC;
H. Julian Goldsmid, Introduction to
Thermoelectricity, Springer Series in Materials
Science, 2009.
Biplab Paul and Pallab Banerji - Grain Structure
Induced Thermoelectric Properties in PbTe
Nanocomposites, Nanoscience and Nanotechnology
Letters, Vol. 1, 208212, 2009;
Zhuomin M. Zhang, Nano/Microscale Heat
Transfer, Mc Grow Hill, 2007;
ANSYS Release 11.0 Documentation;
Jaegle M. - Multiphysics Simulation of
Thermoelectric Systems - Modeling of Peltier -
Cooling and Thermoelectric Generation, Proceedings
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I.A. Ivan, M. Rakotondrabe, N. Chaillet, High
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ISSN: 1792-4235 635 ISBN: 978-960-474-214-1